Day 182 Gifts with strings attached

Following on from Tuesday’s post, Sentimental Clutter I wanted to bring forward some interesting points brought up in the comments and emails about gifts with strings attached.

Cindy had suggested about a week ago in an email to me that I should write a post on this very subject. Then MmmYarn made a comment about how she gives gifts in a very thoughtful way that I felt we could all learn from. So here goes..

There seems to be two kinds of gifts with strings attached…

  1. Items gifted down through the family which you feel obliged to accept (whether you want them or not) and keep until you are at an appropriate age to pass them on to someone else. Or as Cindy so nicely put it “things that other people own but that live in your house”.
  2. Gifts that are given to you with the intention (whether imagined or real) that you should keep forever.

Items in category one usually include things like china, crystal, furniture, silverware, jewellery, medals etc. Items in category two include some of the items in category one (usually new rather than antique) with extras thrown in like handmade items, gaudy trinkets, souvenirs and many more.

These gifts are often received happily and greatly loved and appreciated. Sometimes however they are accepted graciously and dutifully kept regardless of personal taste. Like I said the intention for you to accept or keep these items can be either real of imagined but either way you do not want to rock the boat with the giver (usaully a loved one or family member) in case you hurt their feelings.

In the case of family heirloom type gifts the chances are that if you just explained at the time that they are not to your taste and you would rather see them go to someone who would appreciate them more it may not come as such an affont to the giver as you might think. You have to weigh up which option you can live with the most, a little disappoint for the giver or a lifetime being stuck with the item you don’t want.

In the case of the other kind, it can’t hurt to accept graciously and use/display it for a reasonable length of time then pass it on. It will appear that you have enjoyed it as intended and like your not refusing the gift in the first place the giver usually won’t question where it has gone. No harm done. If they do ask and you think they can’t handle the truth I really think a little white lie may be in order here.

The one thing we do have control over is never to impose this stituation on anyone else. This is where MmmYarn’s thoughtful giving comes into play. Here is what she had to say in her comment “I should add I’m a knitter and give away a lot of my finished items. I actively encourage recipients to pass the items on when they are outgrown or no longer needed”. Willow was impressed with this sentiment and  said “I give away most of my knitting as gifts. Thanks for the reminder to tell people that they are welcome to pass the items along without guilt. My girls bring back their old sweaters to me and sometimes I unravel them and reknit the yarn into something else. Recycled and repurposed knits!”

Thanks ladies for your contribution to today’s post and let’s hope open guilt free gifting catches on.

Make sure you read the comments for this post as there are some great examples coming through of other readers experiences in this matter.


I probably should have decluttered something today to fit in with my post but I didn’t. Although I do have a few things in mind these bowls will have to do for now.
Steel Bowls

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Your post reminds me of something I read somewhere several years ago. I honestly have no memory of where I heard it. But it went like this: If you receive an heirloom gift or piece of furniture, display it front and center for a while. Then gradually move it away from the middle of the room/house along the hall, into a bedroom and eventually to the garage. After a bit of time, even the giver will not notice. And if you pass it on to someone else, you can tell the giver that “so and so” loved it so much that you happily passed on the love. Usually this works out as a win-win situation with the fewest hurt feelings. I’ve done this a couple of times myself 🙂

    Thanks for thoughtfully writing about an important but sensitive topic.

    • Hi Willow,
      nice comment and this is the best part [“so and so” loved it so much that you happily passed on the love]. That is exactly the little white lie I had in mind when I wrote this post but I decided to leave the lying it to the readers imagination. I didn’t want to appear too

  2. My father passed on 17 yeara ago and my mother and I become housemates from that time on. When she moved in with me she had many things that I didn’t particularly care for. A few years after Dad’s death we were talking and she said something about all of her “family heirlooms” being mine one day and how there were many she wasn’t that fond of. I told her very nicely that in my opinion she would be better off selling anything of value now and using the money for herself than hanging onto it just for me to sell it when she is gone. We went through boxes of items that we then sold to antique dealers. She has still kept more than I would care to have but it is 1/10 of what she used to have. After this happened I realised that gift giving is so many times more about us than the person we are giving to. I find that I give fewer gifts to people and those I give I put research into. I have found that cards and letters to express my love and appreciation for a person mean much more to them than a gift just to say I gave them a gift. We don’t need more things, we need more love, care, encouragement and support.

    • Hi Deb J,
      What a great example of this subject. You are so spot on with your ideas of gift giving in my opinion. It took some time to convince my family that this was a good idea and now we do not exchange gift anymore. I send a card and a couple of scratch tickets and they do the same for me. And for my friends who are close by I take them to lunch and maybe a movie and at the end of the day all we have is a full stomach and a smile on our faces.

  3. Aside from my in-laws and my mother, I don’t have any relatives or loved ones who are big on passing down heirlooms. So, I consider myself lucky. These folks are very casual about asking whether or not I want something from their collection. If I say no, their feelings are not hurt.

    I’m not sure if I’ve shared this here but one of my practices is to offer something that someone compliments me on. Most people say no but I remember a friend who delighted at this gesture. It was a cocktail ring that I wore around my thumb. I was happy that he took it.

    • Hi Belinda,
      you are lucky like me to have considerate people around you who don’t foist things upon you with strings attached. You are also clearly a generous person and the world needs more of those.

  4. One of my friends has an agreement with her family that she talks about pretty freely, so I think she is trying to share it with her friends too. They have agreed that they will keep a gift for one year, and then they are free to regift/sell/give away/whatever without guilt. Her family does a lot of yard sales and that way no one has to explain anything that is being sold that they once received as a gift.

    • Hi Wendy,
      sound like your friends family has the right idea. I am glad she is sharing her ideas with her friends. Suggest to her that buying consumable gifts, flowers, choclate, movie passes, lunch out, that sort of thing solves this problem altogether because once used they are gone. No mess, no clutter no poluting the environment.

  5. Like Willow, I knit a lot (too much) and hope that the things I’ve given get repurposed or reknitted or regifted when they no longer suit.

    Great post!

  6. My neighbor inherited from both her mother and grandmother at their passings. She has many, many boxes of their belongings still, but she has managed to get rid of some that she does not value. When asked where something is, which has happened, she gives the evasive AND truthful answer “I don’t know.” she figures that she’s passed it on, and she doesn’t know where it is.

    Also she has the burden of dome kind of heirloom clock, which she dislikes, and I’ve never seen. I sent her your story about the broken wedding clock, and she laughed and laughed.

    • Hi Cindy,
      You should tell your neighbour to put that dome clock out on display and then (wink wink) you know how accidents happen. (Do the lady a favour) lol!!!
      What she should do is put all the stuff out on display that she doesn’t want invite the realative around for dinner start up a conversation about the stuff and then if anyone mentions something they particularly like she could give it to them discretely late on. If no one makes any comments about items they like she should be free to give them away or sell them.

  7. This reminds me of a Czech lady I worked with who one day happily announced she’d finally broken the last wedding gift she didn’t care for!

    Willow’s story about the gift displaying I believe comes from one of Sandra Felton’s book. She started Messies Anonymous and was my original inspiration to start decluttering.

    • Hi Andrea,
      I remember when I got married we received about five sets of wine glasses. Two years later I we were invited to a wedding so I regifted one of the sets of wine glasses. We had far to many and this person was just a work college no-one special to. me and I figured the marraiage would last about a year so I didn’t see the point in wasting money. Sure enough she was about 45 minutes late for the wedding (probably trying to decide whether to turn up or not) and the marriage was over in about 6 months. Needless to say wine glasses are still on my decluttering list 23 years latter.


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